Volunteer Land Stewards Keep Land Trust Sites Safe

Despite the skills, knowledge and abilities of its employees, the Door County Land Trust could not properly protect its ever-growing number of ecologically significant and sensitive sites without help.

Fortunately, the county serves as a magnet for nature lovers, so the Door County Land Trust (DCLT) can draw from a corps of 250 volunteers. Some of the most dedicated volunteers serve as the organization’s eyes and ears at specific locations among the almost 9,000 acres of lands that the DCLT owns or monitors.

Three of those land stewards – Mark Glasser, Bill Sauve and John Swanson – come from very different backgrounds, but they hold common goals in their volunteer work.

Mark Glasser of Ellison Bay – retired from sales and human-resources counseling – is a steward for the Kangaroo Lake Nature Preserve. He said that although he loves to travel, backpack and see natural wonders as far away as dunes in Morocco, he dedicates much of his free time to doing trail maintenance in Door County.

Mark Glasser of Ellison Bay says the Kangaroo Lake Nature Preserve trails are some of Door County’s most pleasant for hiking, and he helps keep them that way as a volunteer land steward for the Door County Land Trust. Photo by Craig Sterrett.

Glasser watches over the preserve and its trails, which lead to the shallow, reedy shoreline at the northeastern corner of Door County’s largest inland lake. He also does trail maintenance for The Clearing, Newport State Park and the Ice Age Trail, and before retiring, he did volunteer trail work near Waukesha.

“One of the things I like to think about is trying to make trails somewhat – I’ll emphasize somewhat – tick proof. In Door County, there are so many ticks, but if you don’t have to brush up against so many tree limbs and bushes and shrubs when you’re walking, you’re less likely to get ticks on you,” Glasser said, noting that the Kangaroo Lake trails that are accessible from Maple Road aren’t as wide as some in the state-park system.

“It doesn’t mean it has to be wide enough for two or three people to walk side by side,” he said. “Usually, our trails are for one person to walk on, single file. You just try to keep the trail open and enjoyable so people can enjoy nature and not have to worry about other things while they’re walking on the trail.

Glasser cuts fallen logs and tries to keep thorns and trip hazards out of the way of trail users whenever he visits, but he doesn’t deal with litterbugs very much.

“Probably the biggest trash problem we have on any trail is little doggie poop bags,” he said. “People use those bags to pick up the doggie poop, and then they don’t want to carry it, so they’ll leave it on the trail, planning to pick it up when they forget about it.”

Glasser has also helped DCLT install benches and bluebird boxes at the site, which he loves because of the varying types of environments – from cedar to hardwood forests to more juniper and rock – and elevation changes on the trails that lead to the lake edge with a loop hike “where you don’t have to repeat yourself.”

Bill Sauve of Sturgeon Bay, an owner of an in-home care agency, is a steward for the Kellner Fen Natural Area.

“My job as a volunteer is making sure the property is looked after, and it allows me to get out of the office, into nature, and to get some exercise. It’s a beautiful spot back there,” said Sauve, who lives across a road from another highly sensitive DCLT site. “I try to keep it up like it’s my own piece of property. It’s such a unique piece of property; whatever they want me to do, I’ll do.”

Sauve readily takes advantage of his “one-of-a-kind opportunity” to put on his hiking boots and clear his mind while shifting from work to volunteer mode.

Although some of the land stewards do a lot of trail maintenance, the 40-acre area that Sauve monitors in the fen complex northeast of Sturgeon Bay has very little of that. There’s only a short trail, and for safety and environmental protection reasons, it does not lead into the fen.

“It’s the only fen in Door County,” he said.

The property’s fen – a low land that’s covered wholly or partly with water – has a four- to five-foot-thick sedge mat floating over an alkaline water body and serves as habitat for the federally protected Hine’s emerald dragonfly, migrating birds and “a lot of different wildlife,” said Sauve, mentioning swans, wood ducks, teal and badgers.

Sauve’s duties include making sure no one has ventured onto the sedge mat because he said there are tales about people falling through and disappearing. 

“Local legend is they went out there and could not find a probe long enough to get to the bottom of the fen,” Sauve said.

Many years back, the land’s owners built a large, commercial frog-processing facility there, but today, the site’s federal recognition keeps much of it pristine.

“My maintenance I do is walking the perimeter and making sure there are no permanent tree stands, no garbage,” Sauve said, noting that he found an illegally dumped refrigerator there a couple of years ago. If he sees cars parked around the property, he checks on what’s happening and asks questions to ensure that nobody is stuck on the sedge mat.

John Swanson is a retired pediatrician who lives in Sevastopol. He’s president of Friends of Whitefish Dunes State Park, a volunteer for Eagle Bluff Lighthouse and a former volunteer for Shivering Sands near Jacksonport who now does trail maintenance at the DCLT’s Heins Creek and Erskine Woods sites, both of which have short loop trails.

Retired pediatrician John Swanson, one of about 30 volunteer land stewards for the Door County Land Trust, at Erskine Woods Natural Area near Hibbard Creek and Jacksonport. Photo by Rachel Lukas.

“I try to walk both properties at least once a month,” Swanson said. “Each is unique, with peaceful creeks running through them. The large, open, sandy meadow of Heins Creek attracts bluebirds to the multiple bluebird houses. Blackberries are tasty treats in late summer. Fish runs [suckers] in spring and fall are fascinating to watch.”

He enjoys seeing the spring wildflowers when clearing brush in the spring, “especially the coral root, gaywings, star flowers and a large patch of Jack-in-the-pulpit.”

Swanson occasionally reroutes a trail because of creek-bank erosion or downed trees; keeps an eye out for invasive, nonnative species; and picks up the occasional trash that he finds.

“Being a land steward offers me a chance to really look in depth along the trails and admire the constant seasonal changes,” he said.